House Fires Are Way More Common in Winter—Here’s How to Stay Safe

House fires are dangerous no matter when they happen, but they definitely become more common as the temperature dips. According to the American Red Cross, house fires increase between the fall and winter months with peaks in December and January, and the U.S. Fire Administration estimates that about 890 people die in winter house fires each year. These stats are scary, but there’s a lot you can do to keep yourself safe.

Home fires in the winter can typically be attributed to factors such as candles, cooking, Christmas trees, other holiday decorations, and heating units like space heaters, Lieutenant Michael Kozo, who works in the Fire Department of New York’s fire safety education unit, tells SELF.

Not to mention that because of the way modern homes are built, house fires might be more dangerous now than they were, say, 20 years ago, Lorraine Carli, vice president of outreach and advocacy for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), tells SELF.

Many items in modern homes are made of synthetic materials, Carli explains: “If they catch fire, they burn very quickly, so you would have much less time to escape.” Fire safety experts used to tell people they had about seven to 10 minutes to flee a burning home, Carli says. Today, she notes, you could have as little as two minutes to get out of a house that’s caught fire.

All of that means that it’s important to know how to prevent these fires from happening in the first place. Here are a few tips for staying safe.

1. Make sure you have working smoke alarms.

“The smoke alarm is definitely the number one thing we promote; we can’t overemphasize the importance of having one,” Kozo says. “It’s the first thing that’s going to let you know that there’s a fire.”

The vast majority of fires happen in homes that either have no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms, Carli explains. To be exact, nearly three out of five home fire deaths between 2012 and 2016 occurred in homes with no smoke alarms or with smoke alarms that didn’t work, according to a 2019 report from the NFPA. That’s why the NFPA recommends testing your smoke alarms at least once a month, replacing the batteries once a year (or when the alarm “chirps” to tell you the battery is low), and replacing any smoke alarm that’s more than 10 years old. Additionally, Carli recommends having a smoke alarm on every level of your house if you live somewhere that has more than one story.

If your smoke alarms double as carbon monoxide detectors, you’re also protected against another safety threat in your home. If they don’t, you should install carbon monoxide detectors near every sleeping area of your house and check them regularly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.

2. Don’t keep anything within three feet of your space heater, and turn it off before you go to bed.

It’s a given that you want to stay warm during cold winter months, but Kozo says you should exercise some caution when using space heaters. “A lot of people think you can buy one, turn it on, and off we go, but it’s really not that simple,” he says.

Heating is the second leading cause of U.S. home fires, injuries, and deaths, the NFPA says. These fires can spark when a heater is too close to combustible materials or when the device malfunctions mechanically or electrically, leading to potentially lethal consequences. Every year from 2012 to 2016, U.S. fire departments attended to an average of 52,050 fires due to heating equipment, according to a report from the NFPA. Space heaters accounted for 86 percent of the deaths in these incidents.

To stay safe, you should keep a clear area of at least three feet around the space heater at all times, the NFPA says, and always turn it off before you go to bed.

“We recommend that you turn it on and warm up the room you want to sleep in while you’re still awake, and once you go to sleep, you should be shutting it off,” Kozo says. “You shouldn’t be running it all night long.”

3. Don’t leave cooking unattended.

As Carli explains, cooking is one of the leading causes of home fires in general, not just during the winter. As such, she advises people to be extra careful when they’re cooking anything on the stove.

“Stay in the kitchen; pay attention to what you’re cooking,” she says. “Don’t have anything close to the cooktop, whether that’s food wrapping, potholders, [or] dish towels.”

Another kitchen-related tip? Definitely don’t use your oven as a source of heat. Kozo says it could easily cause carbon monoxide to build up in your house.

4. Clean out your dryer’s lint trap.

According to the NFPA, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 15,970 home fires involving washing and drying machines per year from 2010 to 2014. Dryers were at fault for a whopping 92 percent of those fires, and one-third of those fires happened because of a failure to clean the machine. (The other dryer and washer fires were mainly due to mechanical and electrical malfunctions.)

To avoid these fires, make sure you always use a lint filter in your dryer, clean the filter before and after each load of laundry, and keep the area around your dryer clear of things that can catch fire, like boxes, cleaning supplies, and clothing.

5. Avoid using extension cords with anything that produces heat or cool air.

Kozo says that any item that heats or cools the room, like a space heater or air conditioner, should be plugged directly into the wall. That also goes for things like toaster ovens, microwaves, or refrigerators. (And only one of this type of object should be plugged into an outlet at a time, the NFPA says.)

“Those items shouldn’t be plugged into an extension cord because they draw too much power, and the extension cord can’t handle that,” Kozo says. “[Plugging them in the wall] can prevent electrical fires.”

As convenient as extension cords may seem, you really should be careful with how you use them. In fact, the NFPA notes that you’re only supposed to rely on extension cords as temporary stopgaps for your electricity needs. If you feel like you need one long-term, the NFPA recommends asking an electrician to install more outlets in your home.

6. Don’t leave candles unattended or within a foot of anything flammable.

Candles are pretty but also pretty hazardous. They started 36 percent of decoration-related home fires between 2011 and 2015, according to an NFPA report.

Kozo says the FDNY recommends flameless candles whenever possible but understands that this isn’t always an option, especially for religious observances that may require ceremonial use of wax candles. Even if not for religious reasons, sometimes you just want the comfy vibes that come with using an actual candle. That’s fine as long as you implement some simple safety tips.

“You just want to practice some precautions with a flame candle,” Kozo says. “You should extinguish it once it’s burning within two inches from the holder. If it burns all the way down, the holder can get hot and catch fire.” The NFPA also recommends keeping candles at least one foot away from anything that can catch fire, although Kozo bumps that number up to four feet if you’re into exercising the utmost caution.

You should also put out any flames when you leave a room and before you go to sleep. Sure, a candle might burn out on its own and leave you entirely safe, but it only takes one time where it doesn’t for things to go wrong. As they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

7. If you have a fireplace, dispose of the ashes safely.

A fireplace is probably one of the only places in your home where you’d want to have a fire going, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t safety measures to keep in mind.

To avoid chimney fires, the NFPA advises that you should have a qualified professional inspect your chimney and vents every year. You should also store cooled ashes from the fireplace in a tightly covered metal container and keep the container outside, at least 10 feet away from your house and any other buildings.

Beyond that, make sure the area around the fireplace is cleared of anything that might catch flame, and don’t leave a lit fireplace unattended. Yes, “unattended” includes falling asleep, no matter how tempting it is to doze off in front of those cozy flames.


The 2019 Winter X Games Starts This Week—Here’s What You Need to Know

When you think of winter sports, skiing and snowboarding probably come to mind. But what about snow biking, snowmobiling, and knuckle hucking?

All of those—and more—are part of the annual Winter X Games, known as one of the premier elite events in winter action sports that combines both traditional sports and more niche, extreme events. The competition debuted in 1997 in Snow Summit, a ski resort outside of Los Angeles. In its early years, the X Games were held in various locations—including Crested Butte, Colorado, and Mount Snow, Vermont—before settling in Aspen, Colorado, where it’s been hosted every year since 2002 and now attracts 150-plus top pro athletes from around the world, plus thousands of live spectators.

In advance of the 2019 Winter X Games, which kick off this Thursday, January 24, on Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain, we chatted with Tim Reed, vice president of the X Games, to learn more about the different events offered at this unique elite-level competition, the top athletes to watch this year, new events in 2019, and where/how to catch all the high-flying action.

Compared to other high-profile elite events, like the Olympics and World Cup, the Winter X Games have more unique events, including some that are invented entirely for this competition.

“We always continue to evolve,” says Reed of the events offered at the X Games. “One of the things we always try to do is stay ahead of the curve and on top of the trends.” This translates to new events being added within traditional sports, like different disciplines in skiing and snowboarding, as well as the creation of entirely new sports.

This year, there is a brand new X Games event open to snowboarders called the”knuckle huck,” in which athletes launch off the knuckle (essentially, a smaller mound of snow that’s between the top of the jump and the sloped landing section below) and throw their most impressive trick. Since riders do not get as much air with this style of jumping as they do going off a traditional jump, there’s extra pressure to pull out technical and creative tricks. The knuckle huck joins a line-up of more traditional snowboarding events, including superpipe, big air, and slopestyle.

There are also several snowbike events this year, which involve riding a winter-friendly motocross bike (think: a ski on the front and a snowmobile-like tread on the back) to complete various challenges, explains Reed. For the first time this year, the unique sport will feature an adaptive snowbike cross event, open to adaptive athletes, and a para snowbike cross event, open to para athletes. Also unique and noteworthy: For the second year, the Games will include the “Harley Davidson Hill Climb,” in which motorcyclists race up the gargantuan snowy hill used in the big air skiing and snowboarding competition. Whoever reaches the top first, wins, explains Reed. That’s in addition to the “Jeep Wrangler X Challenge,” in which athletes race cars through a snowy obstacle course. More mainstream events at the X Games include ski slopestyle, ski superpipe, and ski big air, plus Special Olympics unified snowboarding.

Traditional and not-so-traditional events aside, the X Games isn’t just an athletic competition.

It’s also a music festival, photography forum, and celebration of film. This year, attendees will see performances by Lil Wayne, Chainsmokers, Louis the Child, and Kygo, and also have access to photography workshops, film screenings, and athlete Q&A sessions. “The combination of sports, music, and lifestyle elements make it a really unique experience,” says Reed.

These are the top contenders to watch this year:

An X Games committee, comprised of sports specialists, determines which athletes receive an invite to the Games. These invites are determined on athlete results in other high-profile events, like the Dew Tour, LAAX Open, and the U.S. Open; athlete worldwide rankings; and/or videos in which athletes have demonstrated their skills, explains Reed. There is no age limit—Chloe Kim, for example, nabbed an X Games invite at age 13, as the primary criterium is skill.

Speaking of Kim, the 18-year-old American Olympic gold medalist is among the top female competitors to watch at this year’s X Games. She’ll be competing in the superpipe event. Other podium contenders across the snowboarding events include American Olympic gold medalist Jamie Anderson, American Olympian Julia Marino, and American X Games medalist Hailey Langland, says Reed.

On the men’s side, viewers should keep an eye on Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris, an Olympic bronze medalist who will compete in the slopestyle, big air, and knuckle huck events, plus American David Wise, two-time Olympic gold medalist in freestyle skiing, who will compete in the ski superpipe event, says Reed. Australian Jackson Strong, seven-time X Games medalist, is a top contender in the motor events, as is American Axell Hodges, six-time X Games medalist, adds Reed. Click here for a full list of athletes in attendance.

If you’re familiar with the scoring and format of ski and snowboarding events at other big-name competitions like the Olympics and the World Cup, you should know that the X Games follow its own set of rules and procedures, though there are consistencies across X Games events. In all judged (not timed) events, like big air, for example, a team of five judges score the runs and the top-scoring run wins, explains Reed. The top three athletes in each event will receive medals with the exception of the new knuckle huck event and the Jeep event, in which winners will receive a special, separate award, says Reed.

Here’s how and when you can watch the 2019 Winter X Games:

Live broadcast begins on Thursday, January 24, and continues through Sunday, January 27, switching between ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC. Check out for a full broadcast schedule of when and how to watch. Every single event, in some way, will be broadcast, adds Reed. Events not included in the ESPN broadcast window, plus live streams of the musical performances, will be shared via @XGames on YouTube, Facebook, and/or Twitter.

This Is How an Aerial Performer Re-started Her Career After Having Both Feet Amputated

Erin Ball ascends a length of bright pink fabric hung from the ceiling, pulling up with her muscular, tattooed arms and stabilizing herself by gripping the material with her inner thighs. Her legs end a few centimeters below her knees. She hooks one over the silk to hang upside down, then wraps the fabric around her waist. Her glittery false eyelashes shimmer in the light as she poses before launching herself into a breathtaking drop.

Ball’s discipline, called aerial circus and popularized by Cirque du Soleil, entails doing tricks on fabric, rope, trapeze, hoop, or other apparatuses suspended in the air. Aerialists, as performers are called, combine grace and flexibility with serious core and upper body strength to pull off jaw-dropping moves.

A decade into her career as a performer and teacher, Ball makes it all look easy. But after becoming a double amputee a few years ago, she’s had to work hard to get back in the air and reclaim her identity as an athlete.

In 2014, Ball got lost on a walk in the woods near her Kingston, Ontario home.

A police dog found her six days later, unconscious and suffering from extreme frostbite. Doctors amputated her damaged feet and part of her lower legs. After the surgery, she spent much of the next year lying in a hospital bed, struggling to accept what had happened and wishing she could die.

“I didn’t know any amputees,” Ball tells SELF. “I really had no idea that my life could continue and resemble what it had been before in any way.”

Eventually she decided something had to change. She wanted to go back to circus training, though she wasn’t sure if it was possible. While many amputee runners and wheelchair basketball players have increasingly sizable and visible communities to turn to, Ball didn’t know any other aerialists without feet.

She started learning to walk with prosthetic legs and did pull-ups, push-ups, and Pilates to rebuild the strength circus requires.

She arranged to hang her silks at a friend’s fitness studio. The ceiling was lower than ideal and she was out of shape. Ball slowly made her way up several flights of stairs to the space. She began with the skills she’d taught in beginner classes, tying knots around her prosthetic feet and standing up on the fabric. She quickly realized a lot of things wouldn’t work how they had before. Her new feet wouldn’t flex, a key motion that helps aerialists brace themselves on the silks. The prosthetic legs weighed her down and the silks twisted them in painful ways.

“I felt like I had a pinky toe and it was on fire,” she remembers. It was the only time she’s experienced phantom limb pain, or discomfort that feels like it’s localized in a body part that’s been removed.

But Ball persevered, re-learning all the basics with her prosthetic legs on. Then she took them off and started experimenting. She discovered tricks to get into standard positions without using her feet and came up with new ways of moving in the air.

“Creatively that just opened up so much,” she says. “I’ve created all kinds of climbs that probably a lot of people can’t do, because I can fit into smaller spaces and just kind of sneak my legs through.”

She now performs with and without prostheses, sometimes attaching confetti cannons and colored smoke grenades to either her “meat” legs—a term some amputees, including Ball, use to describe their bodies—or the prosthetic ones if she’s using them. The different leg attachments she uses in her acts, which include extra-long circus stilts and cones, change the way she moves. Attaching a longer or heavier piece of material to her body shifts what aerialists call a “balance point,” or the spot, usually somewhere on the lower back, where she can place her body to rest hands-free on a trapeze bar.

Since aerialists are constantly lifting their own bodyweight, some assume certain moves are easier for Ball now, because her “meat” legs are shorter and therefore lighter. But she says amputation has almost always made tricks harder whether she’s wearing her prosthetic legs or not. When she doesn’t have her prostheses on, she’s using her inner thighs to grip the fabric. When she does wear her the prosthetic legs, they weigh about 13 pounds total. She can’t engage them the way one can engage limbs that are part of the body, so it’s like having ankle weights on for every move. Her gait walking on prosthetic legs also tightens up her hips, which has caused Ball, a former yoga teacher, to notice tightness in places she hadn’t felt in years.

Whether it’s doing tricks in the air or lifting weights in the gym, navigating fitness as an amputee is a highly individual process.

Ball has now has a community of below-knee amputees to consult, but they have different kinds of feet and different size limbs. “People can give me ideas, but I really have to figure out what is going to work for me,” she says.

Before becoming an amputee, Ball took a teacher training course where she was asked if she wanted to teach circus to people with disabilities. At the time, she had no idea how she might do that. Since then, she’s developed a curriculum for aerial circus coaches to train amputees, called “Flying Footless.” This summer at her wheelchair-accessible studio, she’ll host her second circus camp for amputees and others with limb differences. “I’m a lot more confident in working with different bodies,” she says. “Now I see it as a really interesting, fun challenge.”

Ball believes fitness professionals who work with adaptive athletes should remember that everyone is an expert in their own body.

The trainer’s role is to offer suggestions and not be too rigid about doing things a specific way. “Let go of the standards,” she says. “If it’s not there for a safety reason, don’t be afraid to let it go. I really believe that there’s no such thing as ‘wrong’ unless somebody is hurting themselves or somebody else.”

Amputation has changed how she defines success for herself and her students. Before she prized a certain aesthetic in the air: super-straight legs, super-pointed toes. Now, she says, “I’m more focused on what shapes can unique bodies make, versus let’s make all bodies make the same shapes.”

When she was first adjusting to her new body, Ball used to hide her prosthetic legs under leg warmers so people wouldn’t stare. Today she has fun expressing her identity as an amputee and finding the humor in it. She wears earrings made of Barbie legs and tiny dangling knives, and she recently got a tattoo of a hot air balloon filled with severed feet. On Halloween, she posted a photo on Instagram of herself wearing an apron splattered with fake blood, raising a cleaver above a pile of plastic zombie legs.

She wants new amputees to know the transition after surgery is hard, but it doesn’t stay that way. “My life is actually better now,” Ball says. “I’ve built a community and just connect with people on a much deeper level than I used to.”

Physical activity as a preventive strategy against depression

While many studies have found associations between greater levels of physical activity and lower rates of depression, a key question has remained — does physical activity actually reduce the risk of depression or does depression lead to reduced physical activity? Now a team led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators has used a novel research method to strongly support physical activity as a preventive measure for depression. Their report is being published online in JAMA Psychiatry.

“Using genetic data, we found evidence that higher levels of physical activity may causally reduce risk for depression,” says Karmel Choi, PhD, of the Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit in the MGH Center for Genomic Medicine, lead author of the report. “Knowing whether an associated factor actually causes an outcome is important, because we want to invest in preventive strategies that really work.”

The technique used in the study — Mendelian randomization — uses gene variants to study the effects of a non-genetic factor in a different approach from that of traditional research. The gene variants are studied as a type of natural experiment in which people show higher or lower average levels of a factor like physical activity that are related to gene variants they have inherited. Because genetic variants are inherited in a relatively random fashion, they can serve as less biased proxies to estimate the true relationship between physical activity and depression. This approach can also determine which of two traits is actually causative — if levels of trait A affects the levels of trait B but levels of trait B do not affect levels of trait A, that implies that trait A leads to trait B, but not vice versa.

For this study, the researchers identified gene variants from the results of large-scale genome-wide association studies (GWAS) that were conducted for physical activity in the U.K. Biobank and for depression by a global research consortium. GWAS results for physical activity were available for two different measures: one based on 377,000 participants’ self-reports of physical activity and the other based on readings of motion-detecting sensors called accelerometers, worn on the wrists of more than 91,000 participants. The GWAS for depression was based on data from more than 143,000 participants with and without this condition.

The results of the Mendelian randomization study indicated that accelerometer-based physical activity, but not self-reported activity, does appear to protect against the risk of depression. The differences between the two methods of measuring physical activity could result not only from inaccuracies in participants’ memories or desire to present themselves in a positive way but also from the fact that objective readings capture things other than planned exercise — walking to work, climbing the stairs, mowing the lawn — that participants may not recognize as physical activity. The analysis revealed no causal relationship in the other direction, between depression and physical activity.

“On average,” Choi says, “doing more physical activity appears to protect against developing depression. Any activity appears to be better than none; our rough calculations suggest that replacing sitting with 15 minutes of a heart-pumping activity like running, or with an hour of moderately vigorous activity, is enough to produce the average increase in accelerometer data that was linked to a lower depression risk.”

Senior author Jordan Smoller, MD, ScD, director of the Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit and a professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says, “While gene variants like those used in this study do not determine a person’s behaviors or outcomes, their average associations with certain traits in these very large studies can help us look at a question such as whether physical activity — or the tendency to engage in more physical activity — has a likely causal effect on depression. And the answers to those questions could help researchers design large-scale clinical trials.”

Choi adds, “And of course it’s one thing to know that physical activity could be beneficial for preventing depression; it’s another to actually get people to be physically active. More work needs to be done to figure out how best to tailor recommendations to different kinds of people with different risk profiles. We currently are looking at whether and how much physical activity can benefit different at-risk groups, such as people who are genetically vulnerable to depression or those going through stressful situations and hope to develop a better understanding of physical activity to promote resilience to depression.”

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Childhood lead exposure linked to poor adult mental health

Lead exposure in childhood appears to have long-lasting negative effects on mental health and personality in adulthood, according to a study of people who grew up in the era of leaded gasoline.

Previous studies have identified a link between lead and intelligence, but this study looked at changes in personality and mental health as a result of exposure to the heavy metal.

The findings, which will appear Jan. 23 in JAMA Psychiatry, reveal that the higher a person’s blood lead levels at age 11, the more likely they are to show signs of mental illness and difficult personality traits by age 38.

The link between mental health and lead exposure is modest, according to study coauthor Aaron Reuben, a graduate student in clinical psychology at Duke University. But “it’s potentially important because this is a modifiable risk factor that at one point in time everyone was exposed to, and now, certain people in certain cities and countries are still exposed to,” he said.

In a previous study, Reuben and colleagues showed that higher levels of lead in childhood were linked to lower IQ and lower social standing in adulthood.

Both sets of findings suggest that lead’s “effects really can last for quite a long time, in this case three to four decades,” said coauthor Jonathan Schaefer, also a graduate student in clinical psychology at Duke. “Lead exposure decades ago may be harming the mental health of people today who are in their 40s and 50s.”

Because gasoline around the world was treated with high levels of lead from the mid 1960s until the late 1980s, most adults now in their 30s, 40s, and 50s were exposed as children. Lead from automotive exhaust was released into the atmosphere and soils. Today, high lead exposures are rarer, and most often found in children who live in older buildings with lead plumbing and paint.

The subjects of this study are part of a group of more than 1,000 people born in 1972 and 1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand, at a time when gasoline lead levels in New Zealand were among the highest in the world. They have regularly participated in physical and mental health evaluations at the local University of Otago.

Researchers measured blood lead levels — in micrograms per deciliter of blood (ug/dL) — when participants were 11 years old. Today, blood lead levels above 5 ug/dL will trigger additional clinical follow-up of a child. At age 11, 94 percent of participants in the Dunedin Study had blood lead levels above this cutoff.

“These are historical data from an era when lead levels like these were viewed as normal in children and not dangerous, so most of our study participants were never given any treatment for lead toxicity,” said Terrie Moffitt, the senior author of the study and Duke’s Nannerl O. Keohane University Professor of psychology & neuroscience and psychiatry & behavioral sciences.

The Duke research team also assessed participant mental health and personality at various points throughout their lives, most recently at age 38. Diagnostic criteria or symptoms associated with eleven different psychiatric disorders — dependence on alcohol, cannabis, tobacco, or hard drugs; conduct disorder, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, fears and phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, mania, and schizophrenia — were used to calculate a single measure of mental health, called the psychopathology factor, or “p-factor” for short.

The higher an individual’s p-factor score, the greater the number and severity of psychiatric symptoms. Lead’s effects on mental health as measured by the p-factor score are about as strong as those on IQ, explained coauthor Avshalom Caspi, Edward M. Arnett Professor of psychology & neuroscience and psychiatry & behavioral sciences at Duke. “If you’re worried about lead exposure’s impact on IQ, our study suggests you should probably also be worried about mental health,” Caspi said.

The research team also determined that participants exposed to higher levels of lead as children were described as having more difficult adult personalities by family members and friends. Specifically, they found that study members with greater lead exposure were rated as more neurotic, less agreeable, and less conscientious than their less-exposed peers.

These findings confirm personality characteristics that have been previously linked to a number of problems, including worse mental and physical health, reduced job satisfaction, and troubled interpersonal relationships.

“For folks who are interested in intervention and prevention, the study suggests that if you’re going to intervene on a group of kids or young adults that have been lead exposed, you may need to think very long-term when it comes to their care,” said Schaefer.

In the future, the Dunedin Study team is interested in whether lead exposure might be linked to the development of later-life diseases such as dementia or cardiovascular disease.

Reuben said the findings are relevant to other developed countries as well. “When we see changes that may be the result of lead exposures in New Zealand it’s very likely that you would have seen those same impacts in America, in Europe, and the other countries that were using leaded gasoline at the same levels at the same time.”

19 Make-Ahead Casseroles That Will Save You When It’s Cold Out

Casseroles have a reputation for being kind of old school, but they couldn’t be better designed for our modern world. They make a ton of servings, often only need to be cooked in just one pan, and they’re easy to store and save for later—a meal prep dream come true.

Freeze and store these 19 casserole recipes for the snowy days in your future. They include a bunch of different ideas you’re sure to love, from an orange chicken bake to cheesy gratins. And since they’re already prepped, all you have to do is stick them in the oven, wait a bit, and enjoy. So you can kick back and relax as your casserole cooks and the oven warms up your house.

Crying Baby: What to Do When Your Newborn Cries

The dream: Your baby sleeps through the night after just a few weeks, gurgles happily while you run errands, and fusses only when hunger strikes.

The reality: Your baby’s favorite playtime is after the 2 a.m. feeding. Crankiness peaks when you’re out and about. You had no idea a baby could cry for so long.

Sound familiar? On any given day, a newborn might cry for up to two hours—or even longer. Find out why babies cry, and what to do about it.

Decoding the tears

A crying baby is trying to tell you something. Your job is to figure out why your baby is crying and what—if anything—you can do about it. Consider what your crying baby could be thinking.

I’m hungry.

Most newborns eat every few hours round-the-clock. Some babies become frantic when hunger strikes. To avoid such frenzy, respond to early signs of hunger. Frequent burping might help reduce discomfort that could be causing tears.

If you’re breast-feeding your baby, the flavor of the milk might change in response to what you eat and drink. If you suspect that a certain food or drink is making your baby fussier than usual, avoid it for several days to see if it makes a difference. If you’re feeding your baby formula, your baby’s doctor might recommend changing formula.

I want to suck on something.

Sucking is a natural reflex. For many babies, it’s a comforting, soothing activity. If your baby isn’t hungry, you might offer a pacifier or help your baby find his or her finger or thumb.

I’m lonely.

Sometimes simply seeing you, hearing your voice, or being cuddled can stop the tears. Calmly hold your baby to your chest. You might place your baby on his or her left side to aid digestion or on his or her stomach for support. Gentle pats on the back might soothe a crying baby, too.

I’m tired.

Tired babies are often fussy—and your baby might need more sleep than you think. Newborns often sleep up to 16 hours a day. Some newborns sleep even more.

I’m wet.

For some babies, a wet or soiled diaper is a surefire way to trigger tears. Check your baby’s diaper often to make sure it’s clean and dry.

I want to move.

Sometimes a rocking session or walk through the house can soothe a crying baby. In other cases, a change of position is all that’s needed. Keeping safety precautions in mind, try a baby swing or vibrating infant seat. Head outdoors with the stroller. You might even want to buckle up for a car ride.

I’d rather be bundled.

Some babies feel most secure in a swaddle wrap. Snugly wrap your baby in a receiving blanket or other small, lightweight blanket.

I’m hot or cold.

A baby who’s too hot or cold is likely to be uncomfortable. Add or remove a layer of clothing as needed.

I’ve had enough.

Too much noise, movement, or visual stimulation might drive your baby to cry. Move to a calmer environment or place your baby in the crib. White noise—such as a recording of ocean waves or the monotonous sound of an electric fan or vacuum cleaner—might help your crying baby relax.

Over time you might be able to identify your baby’s needs by the way he or she is crying. For example, a hungry cry might be short and low-pitched, while a cry of pain might be a sudden, long, high-pitched shriek. Picking up on any patterns can help you better respond to your baby’s cries.

Crying it out

If your baby doesn’t appear sick, you’ve tried everything, and he or she is still upset, consider letting him or her cry it out. Crying won’t hurt your baby—and sometimes the only way to stop a crying spell is to let it run its course.

Of course, listening to your baby wail can be agonizing. If you need to distract yourself for a few minutes, place your baby safely in his or her crib and take a quick shower, call a friend, or make something to eat.

Is it just fussiness, or is it colic?

Some babies have frustrating periods of intense, inconsolable crying known as colic—typically starting a few weeks after birth and improving by age 3 months.

Colic is often defined as crying more than three hours a day, three days a week for three weeks or longer in an otherwise well-fed, healthy baby. The crying might begin suddenly and for no apparent reason. During an episode, your baby might be difficult—or even impossible—to comfort.

What causes colic remains a mystery, and treatment effectiveness varies. If you’re concerned about colic, consult your baby’s health care provider. He or she can make sure your baby is otherwise healthy and help you learn how to care for a colicky baby.

Taking care of yourself

It’s tough to listen to your baby cry. But remaining relaxed will make it easier to console your baby. To take the best care of your baby, it’s important to take care of yourself, too.

  • Take a break. Ask your spouse, partner, or another loved one to take over for a while. Even an hour on your own can help renew your coping strength.
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. Eat a healthy diet. Include physical activity in your daily routine. If you can, sleep when the baby sleeps—even during the day. The better rested you are, the better you’ll be able to handle a crying baby.
  • Remember that it’s temporary. Crying spells often peak at about six to eight weeks and then gradually decrease.
  • Know when to contact your baby’s health care provider. If you’re concerned about the crying or your baby isn’t eating, sleeping, or behaving like usual, contact your baby’s health care provider. He or she can help you tell the difference between normal tears and something more serious.

It’s also important to recognize your limits. If your baby’s crying is causing you to lose control, put the baby in a safe place—such as a crib—and go to another room to collect yourself. If necessary, contact a family member or friend, your health care provider, a local crisis intervention service, or a mental health help line for support.

Updated: 2015-09-16

Publication Date: 2001-01-31

Assessing the airborne survival of bacteria in aerosol droplets from coughs and sneezes

The airborne transmission of diseases including the common cold, influenza and tuberculosis is something that affects everyone with an average sneeze or cough sending around 100,000 contagious germs into the air at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour.

New research led by scientists from the University of Bristol and published today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, outlines a new technique that, for the first time, examines directly the environmental factors that control the transmission of disease to the level of a single aerosol particle and a single bacterium.

Aerosol droplets are a typical route for the transport of pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses, and the airborne transmission of disease.

The impact of environmental factors (such as relative humidity, temperature, atmospheric oxidants and the presence of light) on the viability and infectivity of pathogens in aerosol droplets remains poorly understood.

For example, although the seasonal variation in influenza cases is known, the environmental factors determining the differences in airborne transmission of the virus is not well understood.

To help understand this process better, scientists have established a novel approach for forming aerosol droplets containing a specific number of bacteria, trapping a cloud of these droplets of exact known population and simulating their environmental exposure over a time from five seconds to several days.

The aerosol droplets are then gently sampled onto a surface to determine how many bacteria have survived their time in the aerosol phase.

The study reports on the benchmarking of this new approach, demonstrating the many advantages over conventional techniques, which include introducing large populations of droplets to large rotating drums or capturing droplets on spiders’ webs.

Not only can measurements be made down to the single bacterium/single droplet level requiring very little quantity of aerosol (picolitres), but high time resolution (one second) measurements of viability can be made, allowing the first quantitative studies of the influence of dynamic factors transforming the aerosol (for example evaporation, condensation) on viability.

For example, the study shows that during evaporation of droplets, the concentration of typical salts can rise way beyond their solubility limit, placing considerable osmotic stress on the bacteria and reducing viability.

Lead author, Professor Jonathan Reid from the University of Bristol’s School of Chemistry, said: “This new technique offers the eventual prospect of allowing refined measurements to improve our understanding of the transmission of many airborne diseases including tuberculosis, the influenza virus, and foot and mouth disease.”

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Materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Shift work for mothers associated with reduced fetal growth and longer pregnancies

New research published in The Journal of Physiology indicates shift work exposure in mothers can result in reduced fetal growth and longer pregnancies, even when the shift work is only carried out early in pregnancy.

Shift work interferes with normal patterns of sleep activity, eating times and exposure to light. Shift workers are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and obesity, but effects on metabolism have not been studied in human pregnancy. While shift work has been associated with impaired pregnancy outcomes, until now the mechanisms have not been understood. Importantly, it was not known when women should stop shift work to prevent adverse effects on their pregnancies. Researchers found that shift work could impair glucose tolerance of mothers in early pregnancy, which means mothers had poorer control of their blood glucose levels. They demonstrated that shift work during pregnancy can disrupt maternal circadian rhythms, or the 24-hour body clock, and metabolism. These findings could inform public policy and workplace practices for shift work during pregnancy in women.

Previous studies have shown that disrupted sleep patterns in rodents can affect pregnancy outcomes. This study considers effects in sheep as they provide an excellent animal model for human pregnancy. The study, conducted by the University of Adelaide and South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, involved simulating shift patterns in groups of sheep, with either light on during the day and food provided each morning, or the timing of light and feeding changed to mimic a rotation between day and night shift during each week. The researchers measured maternal circadian rhythms and glucose control in early and late pregnancy, and weighed all lambs at birth.

Exposure to a model of rotating shift work impaired glucose tolerance in sheep during early pregnancy, just as it does in non-pregnant human adults. Reduced fetal growth was seen in pregnancies with a single fetus and longer pregnancies in mothers carrying twins. Importantly, this was the case even when mothers stopped simulated shift work after the first third of pregnancy. This suggests that exposure to rotating night and day shifts, even if only in early pregnancy, may adversely affect maternal metabolic and pregnancy outcomes.

The researchers now hope to identify shift work patterns that do not adversely affect the mother’s metabolism or pregnancy outcomes. The limitation of this research is that most human pregnancies are singletons, but in this study there were a similar number of twins and singletons, due to the peak fertility of sheep around equinox when they were mated. This reduced the researcher’s ability to compare effects of different durations of shift work on pregnancy outcomes.

Dr Kathy Gatford, leading author on the study, commented on the findings:

‘The effects of shift work on pregnancy are not well understood. We found that exposure to rotating night and day shifts, even if only early in pregnancy, altered both maternal metabolic and pregnancy outcomes. We are now assessing whether maternal shift work affects the health of their children by looking at circadian rhythms, cardiometabolic health and body composition in the progeny in this study.’

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Materials provided by The Physiological Society. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Possible link found between cases of high blood pressure and ‘unhealthy’ shopping centers

A new study using Pop-Up health check stations found a possible link between ‘unhealthy’ shopping centres and the number of cases of suspected or diagnosed high blood pressure recorded for people who volunteered for checks.

Researchers from City, University of London set up the one day Pop-Up health check stations in seven shopping centres across England, and invited passers-by to have a test to screen for signs of the eye disease, glaucoma. The testing was led by optometrist, Laura Edwards, from the University.

Blood pressure readings were also offered 50 per cent of the time to attract potential volunteers with a more comprehensive and familiar health screening.

It is well known that persistent high blood pressure (hypertension) can increase your risk of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions including heart attack, and stroke.

The research team classed retail outlets in shopping centres as ‘unhealthy’ if they were either a fast-food takeaway, a bookmaker, a tanning salon or a payday loan business, in line with a Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) report ranking UK town and city shopping centres based on their ‘unhealthy’ and ‘healthy’ retail outlets.

The researchers also produced a basic score of each shopping centre’s ‘unhealthiness’, which was the proportion of ‘unhealthy’ retail outlets open on the day of testing relative to the total number of retail outlets open in the shopping centre.

The Pop-Up health check stations were set up in four shopping centres from the top 10 ‘unhealthiest’ shopping centres from the RSPH ranking, and three from the top 15 ‘healthiest’ shopping centres in the ranking.

On analysis, the researchers found a link between the number of adult volunteers recorded as having suspected or diagnosed high blood pressure (repeat blood pressure readings at or above 140/90 mmHg) and the ‘unhealthiness’ score they had developed for each shopping centre, which was a statistically significant result.

They also found that in the three ‘healthy’ shopping centres sampled from the RSPH report ranking (Bristol, Cambridge and Nottingham), 20 out of 152 adults (13.1%) were flagged as having readings of high blood pressure on repeat testing.

In the four ‘unhealthy’ shopping centres sampled (Coventry, Preston, Northampton, Stoke-on-Trent), 45 out of 199 adults (22.6%) had readings of high blood pressure.

The difference in the proportion of readings of high blood pressure in ‘healthy’ versus ‘unhealthy’ shopping centres was also a statistically significant result, translating into a 72 per cent increased likelihood of suspected or diagnosed high blood pressure being reported in an ‘unhealthy’ shopping centre relative to a ‘healthy’ shopping centre.

The study has its limitations, including Pop-Up health check station assessments not being able to offer a definitive diagnosis of high blood pressure. Based on an RSPH report, the ‘unhealthiness’ score of retail outlets in shopping centres used is a surrogate marker of the ‘healthiness’ of the shopping area, and has not been validated in other studies.

The findings may point to strategies for targeted outreach testing and screening of blood pressure in shopping centres that could be the subject of further investigation, potentially in the context of reducing health inequalities.

The study is published in the journal BMC Public Health.

David Crabb, Professor of Statistics and Vision Research at City, University of London and who led the research team, said:

“Less than half of those adults aged 40-74 offered the free NHS health check take it. The British Heart Foundation also recently called for NHS health staff to take blood pressure checks at gyms, barbershops and football stadiums and offer blood pressure checks in the workplace. We know that more, effective ways of screening people for high blood pressure are needed, and this study offers an insight into some ways that may be done.

“In our study, over half those recorded as having high blood pressure were aware of having the condition or reported a history of high blood pressure. It may be that differences between ‘unhealthy’ and ‘healthy’ shopping centres could be attributed to differences in detection of high blood pressure, management of high blood pressure or a combination of the two. Both have substantial public health importance, and their relationship to socioeconomic status should be studied further.”

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said:

“Our research into UK high streets illustrated how unhealthy businesses concentrate in areas already experiencing lower life expectancy, and this valuable new research explores in detail one of the many factors at play within this alarming trend. The least healthy shopping centres visited by the Pop-Up health check stations are all within some of the most socially deprived areas of the country, so the results of this study exemplify the stark health inequalities that are entrenched across the UK. Exposing and dismantling those health inequalities is a public health priority, and we welcome all promising opportunities for doing so.”